R&A head talks Open, women, doping, more

R&A Chief Executive Peter Dawson fields questions on the eve of the 2013 British Open.

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GULLANE, Scotland – The R&A, in its news conference before the 142nd Open Championship at Muirfield, fielded questions regarding gender discrimination, drug testing and the Olympics – but little about the setup and condition of the golf course.

The reason for the lack of questions Wednesday about the golf course was simple. According to the R&A, the golf course is in “truly outstanding condition,” and most everyone from players to the media agree. But that’s where the agreement ended, as more real-life issues were addressed.

Peter Dawson, chief executive of the R&A, took all nine questions regarding gender discrimination. While aware that it's an issue, Dawson said the R&A's position is that membership policy is a club matter.

“To think that it would be a good thing for The Open Championship not to play it here, and perhaps to reduce the number of venues from nine to six in the U.K., I could only imagine would do great harm to the championship and not enhance it at all,” Dawson said of eliminating Royal St. George's, Royal Troon and Muirfield – all of which ban female members – from the Open rota.

Dawson said the issue could be examined in the future, provided that the discussion not detract from the Open Championship.

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Drug testing largely has been a non-issue in professional golf since the anti-doping program was implemented in 2008, but Dawson confirmed that the program and its procedures were discussed during a meeting earlier this week.

It was also confirmed that drug testing was part of the Open Championship process, as it is potentially in every event on the PGA and European tours and the other three majors.

One aspect of drug testing that the Olympics require and has not been implemented: A program in which athletes must provide their location at all times in a so-called “whereabouts” program.

An athlete must provide to the proper officials his location so that he can be drug-tested, if officials think it's necessary.

According to Dawson, the program will not go into place with golfers until the International Golf Federation's anti-doping policy takes effect in the months preceding the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, golf's return to the games after a 112-year absence.

Dawson also confirmed that the review of Royal Portrush in Northern Ireland as an Open venue is ongoing, with the R&A in the early stages of the process.

“We're cracking on with the work,” Dawson said of the analysis of Portrush, where the 1951 Open was held. “We've got another visit planned over there relatively soon. You'll just have to be patient and wait to see what comes out of it, I'm afraid."

As for Muirfield, Dawson said the links are receiving some water at night to keep the conditions at an optimum level of fast and firm.

“Most evenings, (we’re) doing a minimal amount of watering to ensure that the golf course stays alive in these conditions,” Dawson said. “All we're trying to do is keep a balance between the water content that's being lost during the day and putting a little bit on at night. And we're just trying to make it lose a little bit more water content rather than a lot more too quickly.”

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